But there are more serious implications. As Chris’ attorney Dianne Herman Ellis says, “Currently Mississippi recognizes a child conceived through donor semen to a married heterosexual couple to be a child OF the marriage. The husband is automatically listed as a father on the child’s birth certificate at birth. He cannot disestablish his paternity to that child, cannot avoid child support because of paternity, and is entitled to both custody and visitation just as if he provided the DNA for the conception of the child.
“To deny a same sex couple the same rights is clearly sex-based discrimination, and, as such, is unconstitutional. Mississippi will either have to grant the same rights to same sex couples that they automatically extend to opposite sex couples or Mississippi will have to bastardize every child born within a marriage through the use of donor semen—an outcome that is unacceptable. Mississippi has long held that “the polestar consideration in child custody cases is the best interest and welfare of the child7.” Surely removing fathers from children, making these children illegitimate, and removing obligations of support from legal parents does not consider the best interest and welfare of the children of Mississippi.”
Legal ramifications aside, for Chris, it was a harsh judgment. The Court awarded her visitation rights but awarded physical and legal custody to her former wife. The Court also ordered Chris to pay child support.
Chris’ life is moving on. She has a serious girlfriend and they plan to marry eventually. She has support from her girlfriend’s family. She reached out to GLAD, Gay and Lesbian Affirming Disciples, for moral and spiritual support. GLAD is a group within the Disciples of Christ Denomination who are affirming LGBTQI identities and celebrating diversity as part of God’s great plan.
It’s not just for me. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to benefit somebody else who is going through this.
Rev. Dr. Katy Valentine commented, “Churches should offer love and support to LGBTQI parents, standing on the side of justice. Too often, they do not. As followers of Jesus, we believe that love is the only way. Chris loves her boys, and she is their mom. She does not stand alone. A team of Disciples across the country is praying for her and standing beside her until justice prevails. GLAD is proud to stand with her.”
Currently, Chris sees her younger son according to her Court-ordered visitation schedule. Her older son refuses to see her, though there have some precious moments of contact. He once told her he loved her, and he recently went to a movie with her.
“Even in the car, the tension was so thick. There was no communication,” Chris said mournfully. She attends therapy with the younger son when invited by the counselor, and she hopes to be invited in to a session with her older son. “I am his mother no matter what,” she states.
And Chris is taking her fight to be recognized as her sons’ mother to the Supreme Court of Mississippi. This isn’t a custody battle, she clarifies. It’s an appeal to be added to her younger son’s birth certificate and to be listed as his legal mother.
It’s a battle she feels alone in. “I’m the first lesbian with children in divorce court in Mississippi,” she says. “The community is scared to come out and fight this cause.”
The stakes are larger than one woman’s love for her children, because the outcome will affect LGBTQI rights in the state. “It’s not just for me,” Chris says. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to benefit somebody else who is going through this.”
I asked her what advice she had for someone going through a similar situation. “Patience. Communication. And just try.” That’s when she told me about texting her older son every day “I love you.”
Rumi writes, “Through love all that is bitter will be sweet.” In Chris’ case, I can only hope that love will see her through both her legal battles and the relational ones, so that she comes back into full communion with her beloved children.
(1) Rudolph, Dana. “LGBT Parenting Timeline.” Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights. Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, 11 Oct. 2012. Web.
(2) Bernet, Dr. William. “Parental Alienation: Misinformation vs. Facts.” The Judges Journal (2015): 23-24. Web.
(3) Website: Baker, Amy JL. "Home: Amy J. L. Baker, PhD." Parental Alienation Syndrome. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
(4) Clawar, Stanley S., and Brynne V. Rivlin. Children Held Hostage: Identifying Brainwashed Children, Presenting a Case, and Crafting Solutions. Chicago: American Bar Association, 2013.
(5) Harman, Jennifer. "Parental Alienation | Jennifer Harman | TEDxCSU." YouTube. TEDxTalks, 14 Mar. 2016.
(6) McPhate, Mike. "Mississippi Law on Serving Gays Proves Divisive." The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Apr. 2016. Web.
(7) Albright v. Albright, 437 So. 2d 1003, 1005 (Miss. 1983).
30 spring 2017 PSG